RUGBY PREVIEWS: Saltash look to make history by reaching Twickenham

CUP JOY: Saltash celebrate after beating Swindon College Old Boys in the quarter-finals (picture by Mike Yeats)

GAMES do not come any bigger for Saltash than their trip to Farnham on Saturday in the semi-finals of the RFU Senior Vase (2.30pm).

The prize at stake is the chance to play in a cup final at Twickenham on May 6.

Saltash have never played at the home of English rugby before.

The last Plymouth Combination side to do so were Liskeard-Looe when they reached the RFU Junior Vase final in 2009.

And Saltash, who are certain to finish third in the Cornwall/Devon League, are leaving no stone unturned in their bid to try and secure a place at Twickenham.

The team, who have beaten Withycombe, Winscombe and Swindon College Old Boys in the previous rounds, will be travelling up to Farnham on Friday and will enjoy an evening team meal together.

Coach Richard Thompson says the Ashes’ cup run has really created a buzz around Moorlands Lane.

“This has really galvanised the club, more so than when we have been going for promotion,” said Thompson.

“Playing at Twickenham is like the Holy Grail.

“I was lucky enough to play for the Devon 7s team there a few years ago, but I have not played a full game there and I certainly have not got near coaching at Twickenham, so it would be nice for the coaching team and everybody.

“But we can’t look too far ahead. We just have to see what comes.

“No-one, though, wants to lose at the semi-final stage.

“Saturday is a huge game. It would be really nice to get there (Twickenham) now.”

He added: “The first game we played was against Withycombe and you don’t really realise the magnitude of the prize at the end, you are just thinking ‘it would be nice to win and get another game’.

“But you win the next one and suddenly you are in the quarter-finals and you are two games from Twickenham. Now we are just one.

“A lot depends on how the boys handle the situation. They could either be daunted, wracked with nerves or excited. Only time will tell.

“But probably our two best performances this season have come in the last two rounds of the cup.

“Our cup form has been better than our league form.

“I think it benefits us playing against unknown teams. The intensity they have shown in the last few cup games has gone up a peg or two from their league performances.”

Thompson, though, knows Saltash will be in for a stern test against London Three South West side Farnham.

The Surrey club have all ready secured the league title, winning 21 of their 22 fixtures and scoring more than 1,000 points.

Their only defeat this term came against divisional runners-up Eastleigh, who narrowly beat them 19-17.

“They are a decent side, otherwise they would not be in this position,” said Thompson.

“They have scored a lot of points this season and put teams to the sword. It will be an interesting game.

“I think they play a different style to us. I think they play a lot of runners of the nine and have some big forwards and 10 and 12 kick a lot of ball. Whereas we don’t kick a huge amount of ball and we like to play in the wider channels. It could be a bit like the previous two rounds.”

Everyone in Devon and Cornwall is well aware of Saltash’s attacking threat, but in the last two rounds of the cup it has been their defence that has been crucial to their victories.

Thompson said:  “We have shown in the last two rounds that we can defend and do it for long periods and we can be disciplined and not give away cheap penalties.”

Apart from top try scorer Will Morton, who is still out with a broken foot, and forward Kyle Felton, who has an ankle injury, Saltash have a full squad to select from.

“We struggle a bit normally for numbers of a Monday night but we turned up this week and we must have had 25 or 26 there and that was same again on Wednesday,” said Thompson.

The Ashes will take a squad of 22 to Surrey. Their party will include three members of the same family – Rob, Phil and Greg Eatwell.

Rob, at 48, has been a stalwart of Saltash’s team for years, but now his sons, who are 22 and 18, are impressing for the south east Cornwall club.


THERE is also a cup semi-final closer to home on Saturday with Old Techs entertaining city rivals OPMs at Weston Mill in the last four of the Lockie Cup (3pm).

Not only is there a place in the final against DHSOB up for grabs but also a lot of pride and revenge resting on the game.

Old Techs edged out OPMs for promotion to Devon One this season. Techs finished as runners-up in Devon Two, with OPMs, who had held that position for most of the season, finishing third.

However, Techs were unable to beat OPMs in their two league meetings. Both matches were as tight as they come but OPMs won 10-6 at Weston Mill before the teams played out a 17-17 draw at King George V Playing Fields.

Techs are the holders of the Lockie Cup and want to try and defend it. They are also looking to reach a third cup final of the season, having played in the David Butt Trophy final at the start of the season and have the Devon Junior Vase to come next weekend.

They know, though, that OPMs will be really up for Saturday’s game after missing out on promotion.

“I think it is a big game for both teams,” said Techs coach Shaun Bedford-Smith.

“The Lockie Cup is pretty important to us, because we are the holders.

“Not many teams win it two years in a row, but we’ve not got through the semi-finals yet.

“We’d love to get into the final again, but I’m sure they do as well.

“I don’t think OPMs have won it (the Lockie Cup) for a long time, as they were up in the higher leagues so were not allowed to field their first team.

“I think it will also be important for them because they just missed out on promotion, like we did last year.

“We were in the same boat as them last year and so it became pretty important for us to get to the final of the Lockie Cup and get something from our season.

“They also got into the semi-final of the Devon Cup and they would have had Totnes at home but had already arranged a tour. I think they could have got to the final of that if they had been able to play that semi.

“Totnes are a good side, but OPMs would have been at home, so I think they were a bit unlucky with that, so that might also spur them on.”

Bedford-Smith is expecting another close game this weekend.

“There’s not much between the two sides,” he said. “They beat us 10-6 thanks to a charge down kick and then the game at their place I think we deserved to win, but they were winning and we got a pushover try right at the end to get a draw.

“That was an up and down game and I think it will be the same again this time.

“I’m sure both sides will have competitive teams out and will really want to win.”

Saturday’s Lockie Cup game means Bedford-Smith cannot travel with the Plymouth Combination side as they head to Bodmin to play in a three-team tournament against Torbay Sharks and the Cornwall Clubs’ side.

With OPMs, Old Techs and Saltash players unavailable, the Plymouth Combination have not found it easy to find players.

Spots could still be available. If anyone is interested they should contact Bedford-Smith on 07816 668675.

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